THEY left it late, but Sligo Rovers' love affair with knockout football continued at Tolka Park last night as they kept their three-pronged assault on silverware on track.
Big nights at Tolka Park are something of a memory for League of Ireland fans, but Shelbourne are on the up again under Alan Mathews, who fielded an understrength side that was minutes away from earning an unlikely, but deserved, EA Sports Cup semi-final place.
But Danny Ventre cancelled out David Cassidy's opener, before last year's PFAI player of the year Richie Ryan sent home a sweetly struck injury-time free-kick as the hosts saw two substitutes sent off in a frantic finale.
Sligo's confidence after beating Shamrock Rovers shone through, but Shels left with their heads held high as the First Division league leaders continue their pursuit of promotion.
The second string home side weren't overawed by their task and they forced two corners in the opening 10 minutes to keep the visitors on the back foot.
Ex-Shels man Joseph Ndo dragged Sligo into the game with his passing and control and the First Division team settled into a pattern of containment.
Other than a brilliant first touch from Matthew Blinkhorn, when he pulled Ndo's ball out of the sky and shot straight at Paul Skinner, the Drumcondra side were largely comfortable as Sligo had all the possession but no penetration.
And the patient hosts took full advantage before the break thanks to some wonderful perseverance from Brendan McGill.
Most had given up on John Sullivan's ball as it looked like crossing the end line, but the former Bohemians winger rescued it and delivered the ball to Cassidy whose first shot was parried by Clarke, but he headed home loose ball.
That stung Sligo into life. Blinkhorn had an effort well blocked by Cassidy at the other end as Derek Foran headed Ndo's corner back across goal and Blinkhorn headed wide from Aaron Greene's cross as the Dubliners went in ahead at the break.
The slickest move of the match saw John Russell send Greene down the left and the full-back's low cross was met by the onrushing Eoin Doyle, but the previously prolific forward miscued with the goal at his mercy.
Paul Cook introduced Ryan in an attempt to get his side going and he fired a curling free-kick just wide. Barry Clancy then had to be brave to block a Ryan effort, but from the corner the hosts' resistance was broken as Ndo's in-swinger found the head of Ventre.
Extra-time looked likely, but Foran embarked on a run forward and drew a foul from Kevin Dawson, who was dismissed for his second yellow in four minutes.
Ryan dispatched the free-kick beautifully and as Sligo's fans celebrated, Chris Mulhall saw red for an over-the-top foul on Ventre.
SHELBOURNE -- Skinner; Matthews (D McGill 86), Ryan, Boyle, Byrne; Clancy, James, Sullivan, Cassidy (Dawson 66), B McGill; Bermingham (Mulhall 72).
SLIGO ROVERS -- Clarke; Ventre, Foran, Peers, Greene; Horgan (Keane 62), Ndo, Russell, Kirby (Cretaro 78), Doyle; Blinkhorn (Ryan 62).
REF -- N Doyle (Dublin).